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March 27, 2003

Potholes in the Roadmap

Earlier Fred Lapides commented on Sunday's James Bennett article in the NYT's Week in Review section. There's a lot about the article that calls for comment. Here goes:
The reasoning is that President Bush cannot hope to stabilize the region, much less democratize Arab states, so long as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians endures as a propaganda tool for the likes of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. After the war with Iraq, Arab leaders will demand that President Bush "prove what he can do for peace," Dennis Ross, the former Clinton administration negotiator, wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal.
First Bennett starts off with the reasoning why President Bush would push the Road Map right now. Then ...
But there is a flaw in all this analysis: The Bush administration has never accepted it. It has never regarded peace between Israelis and Palestinians as a goal as central to American interests as, say, getting rid of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
Now Bennett's saying that Bush doesn't accept the Road Map because he "has never regarded peace between Israelis and Palestinians as a goal as central to American interests." Now Bush has often expressed his support for a Palestinian state so this doesn't quite wash.

Worse than that, Bennett attributes Bush's (and apparently *any*) objection to the Road Map simply in terms of his being unconcerned. There's a better reason, backed up by historical precedent, for saying that American participation in the Quartet's Road Map won't help bring peace in the Middle East: because American support for peace hasn't worked until now.

Go back to 2000. What happened?

1) President Clinton, representing PM Barak went to Geneva offering over 90% of the Golan to the President Hafez Assad of Syria.

2) PM Barak unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops from southern Lebanon.

3) PM Barak offered Arafat over 90% of the land Arafat demanded at Camp David.

What were the results?

1) Assad went to his grave refusing the Israeli offer.

2) Hezbollah still maintains a hostile posture towards Israel and claims (along with the Arab League) that Israel still occupies Lebanon.

3) Arafat refused the offer and two months later launched a new intifada.

Since the United States backed two of these efforts we can hardly say that American involvement was missing. The problem is that the Arab world refuses to change. Refuses to accept 1948.

Bennett continues:
The administration clearly recognizes there is a problem here, and it may truly want to help. But with rebuilding Iraq, confronting North Korea and addressing the American economy already on its agenda, this conflict may never rise to the level of a top priority, certainly not enough of one to justify the political risks involved in dragging the antagonists along the route outlined by the road
map — particularly during the coming presidential election year.

It would be much easier, some experts say, for the White House simply to create the impression that it is trying.

"You have a whole menu of diplomatic activity that doesn't force you to take political risks," said Robert Malley, a former Clinton negotiator who is the Middle East program director of the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental conflict prevention organization. "You don't have to look too far to find the pieces that will fill the diplomatic vacuum that Blair and others
have been complaining about."

For example, he said, "an international conference would be seen by Arab countries as a major step, even if didn't change that much" on the ground. Such a move, he said, would eat up time and score the administration political points, without risking a confrontation with Israel.
Now we're getting the real story. The problem are the political risks involved with pursuing peace. What might those risks be? Ah, I have it "...a confrontation with Israel." Left unsaid, of course, is that risk comes from the all powerful Jewish lobby that is well known to oppose peace. (Actually, we elders of Zion, oppose stupid risks that are unlikely to bring peace.) And quoting Malley without identifying him as the person who rewrote the history of Camp David (ie Barak wasn't really as generous as portrayed, all parties - including the US and Israel - were at fault for botching Camp David) is negligent.
The fundamental question is whether the two sides are expected to make their concessions at the same time or in sequence.

The plan now calls for action "in parallel," including, for example, an immediate halt to incitement by both sides. As the Palestinians crack down on violence, the Israelis are supposed to stop all punitive demolition of Palestinian homes and dismantle all settlement outposts built in the last two years.

In addressing the United Nations Security Council recently, Terje Roed-Larsen, the special envoy here, called parallelism "a key guiding principle" of the new plan.

"Critically, and as we have seen so many times, no cease-fire can take hold without also simultaneously addressing political progress and the economic suffering," he said.

But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says the Palestinians must act first.
This is the core of the problem. Arafat took upon himself the obligation to fight and prevent terror. He has never done this completely. Even when his security forces were more involved in stopping Hamas and Islamic Jihad, his schools were teaching hatred and his channels were broadcasting it. To condition the PA's obligation on any Israeli behavior at all is to make a mockery of the idea of peace. The whole peace process was predicated on Arafat's supposed change. To say Israel is now obligated to withdraw from any area in return for Arafat (or the PA) fulfilling the premise of the whole process is to condone the past ten years of PA sponsored and incited terror. It's the reporters job to provide context and Bennett, again, has come up woefully short. Worse, in order to buttress the faulty premise he quotes Roed-Larsen - who in Bennett's mind and the mind of many diplomats is an unbiased referee but in reality is a pro-Palestinian agitator who helped promote the blood libel of a Jenin massacre last year - along with Roed-Larsen's rationale. In contrast he mentions PM Sharon but provides no reason. Clearly Bennett is taking sides and not offering a balanced analysis.
For example, the Bush administration has repeatedly called for Yasir Arafat to be sidelined. It largely left it to its Quartet allies and the Palestinians to make that happen — and last week, they achieved the appointment of the Americans' candidate, Mahmoud Abbas, to the new position of prime minister. It is still not clear how much authority Mr. Abbas will have.

Then, on Thursday, Palestinian security forces killed a Hamas militant in a renewed campaign to stop Hamas rocket fire at Israel.

"You see the little magnets getting in line with the new American power grid," said Dr. Eran Lerman, director of the Israel-Middle East office of the American Jewish Committee.
While I don't know that Abbas was the American's choice, Bennett makes no mention of any reason he might be controversial - like his Holocaust denial, his support of murdering Jewish civilians in Judea, Samaria and Azza, or his role in financing the Olympic massacre 31 years ago. Still even if we accept that this is a positive change and look at it along with the PA's action against the Hamas rocket launchers, did these things happen because of concessions or because America and Israel were steadfast in demanding change? Take the pressure off the PA and the situation will deteriorate again. Stand firm and maybe the PA will realize it has to change or be relegated to oblivion. Only the thoughts of irrelevance will force the PA to act in good faith. Incidentally, Dr. Lerman has written a number of good articles for the Jerusalem Post; I wonder if this is a full quote from him.

Cross Posted at David's Israel Blog and IsraPundit.